Spanish PM preferred if Catalonia kept bullfighting

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Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Friday his government would have "preferred" if Catalonia had not outlawed bullfighting, while adding the issue should not be politicised. "We would have preferred it if there was no ban. There was a debate, we might not agree, but we should not politicise this decision," he told a news conference following a weekly cabinet meeting.

"The government respects the authority of the autonomous communities to organise public shows," the Socialist premier said.

It was his first public comments on the approval by Catalonia's local parliament on Wednesday of a motion banning bullfighting in the separatist-minded region from January 1, 2012.

The decision makes Catalonia, whose capital Barcelona is the country's second-largest city, the first region in mainland Spain to outlaw the centuries-old tradition. Spain's Canary Islands banned it in 1991.

While the vote delighted animal welfare campaigners, some observers say the vote was as much about Catalonia, which has its own language and culture, asserting its regional identity for nationalist reasons as it was an issue of animal rights.

They point to the fact that all 21 lawmakers from the Catalan separatist party ERC voted in favour of the ban as did 32 of the 48 lawmakers from the Catalan nationalist CiU party.

Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), which sees itself as the defender of a unified Spain, has said it will press parliament to declare bullfighting a "cultural heritage" to protect the practice from being banned.

Zapatero did not say if the Socialists would support this initiative, saying only that his government would be "prudent and responsible" when dealing with the the issue.

Top bullfighting figures, including matadors Julian Lopez "El Juli" and Jose Maria Manzanares, agreed on Friday during a meeting in Madrid to seek a meeting with Culture Minister Angeles GonzAlez-Sinde to discuss the ban.

"Bullfighting is a symbol of the identity of this country," Manzanares' manager Antonio Montilla, who also took part in the meeting, told Spanish public radio RNE.

Meanwhile, Spanish tenor Placido Domingo showed his support for bullfighting late on Thursday during the premier in Spain of the "Simon Boccanegra" opera by imitating a matador at Madrid's Royal Theatre.

"I did it because with what has happened, it was the day to do it," he said according to the conservative daily newspaper ABC.

The 69-year-old opera star, who underwent surgery in March to remove cancerous polyp from his colon, received a 28-minute-long standing ovation at the end of the performance, the newspaper added.

© 2010 AFP

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